Sunday, December 30, 2007

Poster Collection: Norman P. Rockwell

Posters of different sizes and for different subjects have also been a popular pastime for many enthusiasts. Those enamored with films go for the very catchy, colorful, and artful movie posters that are seen in movie theatres and malls and which surely easily draw the captive attention of the onlookers. While others more into hero adulation may go for sports posters whether of racing cars and their drivers, professional sportsmen, etc. In short, there are posters and posters for most popular fancies and passions.
As for me, I was fortunate enough to have acquired over time a precious number of them (about 76) all about one subject, poster prints of the the paintings/illustrations of the late artist, Norman P. Rockwell, a very popular symbol of things Americana.

Click to read more.

Friday, December 28, 2007

US Homeowners vs. Current Housing Slump

Imperceptibly we wake up to find that the country-wide housing slump has been with us for a good part of the current year. Media has been diligent in holding this critical issue up front in our collective consciousness especially during these times of escalating political campaigns, first for the upcoming primaries and late next year, for the real thing. We ourselves cannot help but see around town, most any town in the USA, the unavoidable signs of this slump with the ominous for-sale signs strategically planted in front of many shuttered houses, both new and old.

Because we pulsate more than just lifeless numbers in statistics, many of us find ourselves emotionally wallowing in the dreary consequences and in fearful straits of the eventual outcome of this slump. Remember the stats bare that most homeowners have families living with them. And most homeowners, whether under the shadows of a looming default or foreclosure, or those who negotiated their mortgages prior to the housing boom peak, or even those who currently hold their homes free and clear, would invariably be affected by what this lingering slump could inflict on the housing markets in the long run.

For those of us who have been homeowners for a while, we have some calming experiences to lean on in making our personal assessments of the current predicament. In 1990 we also witnessed a similar general housing downturn which lasted for a year or two. But we got over that and by 2005 the housing boom was in full bloom anew, in spite of the unimaginable turn of events in the intervening years – the crashing tech bust in 2000 and the ensuing financial letdown caused by the devastating events of 9/11.

As early as 2005, 68.9% of all housing units in the US were occupied by their owners. And the current housing slump is definitely hitting hardest from within that favored group. Divided racially, Whites (Europeans) hold the highest percentage in homeownership at 75%, while Asians trailed behind at 60%. And it should be noted that the other races are not far behind, both African Americans and Hispanics both registering close to 50%.

Clearly by 2007 homeownership had breached the 70% level and regardless of the eventual outcome it has become a singularly significant accomplishment for families latching on to the American dream.

We can now debate ceaselessly what brought about the many challenges in the housing markets, whose visibly glaring results have been the record defaults and foreclosures and family dislocations. Included in the mixed bag of causes has been the following: the easy money brought on by a host of factors, very lax and lenient lending practices, and the two capital human sins of greed and fraud. And throw in there the inaction and/or delayed responses by federal regulators in trying to stem that fast-rising trend that was heading toward what many adjudge as a speculative bubble.

Hindsight speculations, indiscriminate finger-pointing, or inveterate hand-wringing, and etc. will definitely not amount to much for those who are already in the throes of losing their precious homes many of whom were beneficiaries of sub-prime and other exotic mode of lending. And early corrective actions will benefit even those credit-worthy homeowners who will start to see values in their neighborhoods diminishing because of rushed or pressured sales, or even foreclosure auctions. Thus the cascading loss of equity in homes will begin to dry up a good source of increased consumer spending, a critical factor in continued economic growth.

And we are also learning of the spillover effects of this slump into initially, the support industries complementing housing construction like the flooring, carpet, tiles, and landscaping sectors. And in the long run to consumer confidence and spending. And thus ultimately, the broader economy would be affected.

But on the other side, we can continue to be hopeful and there are many encouraging signs pointing toward this direction. The US economy is still very vibrant and growth-oriented, productivity still at enviable levels. And while the slump in housing lumbers on, the broader economy at least is not beset with other potentially-catastrophic weaknesses that might impact on its ability to deal squarely with the housing slump. Even the recurring fears of a recession are being hotly debated on both sides, so it is still a toss-up as to whether we are experiencing the onset of one or not.

Thus while the housing slump has been with us for a long enough time, the broader economy continues to be on even keel, which is unequivocally a good sign. And already, corrective actions in the real estate markets are being felt. 30-year fixed mortgages are back in style while long-term interest rates continue to be attractive and affordable. True, resets in mortgage interest will continue to be a factor for the ensuing years for most of those loans under variable rates, which some estimate could stagger to a total of 1 trillion dollars worth. Again, we are hopeful the US economy can ride this over, over and above dark predictions such as that we have not seen foreclosures this much and this many, coupled with widespread home prices downswings, since the depression years of the 20’s.

Update:

One may wonder what the connection is between Narvik in faraway and cold Norway and the troubled housing slumps in sunny California and Florida. This should explain a bit how extensive the ripples are caused by the latter. And reveals somewhat who the rest of the international players that are involved in all this.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Catching The Spirit

The spirit of the season is definitely catching. One unmistakably notices it in the suddenly-changed behavior of people around us, on top of the pervasive festive decorations around town, which at times may be too garish and/or gaudy for one’s tastes as to be repressively unnoticeable.

But how exactly does one catch it, as most of us are unarguably inclined toward it? I’d thought I’d investigate first hand.

So rising up late yesterday morning with slivers of sunshine cutting through the room in what promised to be a battle royale between the cold nippy morning air registering in the 50’s (F) indoors, against the gathering phalanx of warm sunshine emitted by Mr. Sol, I flopped snugly on the den’s comfy chair facing the PC’s empty stare. Turned the switch on while ambidextrously fingering the CD-player’s remote to bring on some Christmas aural delights from a favored list of singers. Cursorily scanned through holiday greetings from my registered list of list groups and some tagged blogs, aptly serenaded by the soft muffled sounds coming from the CD-player. Then furtively wheeled my eyes through the den, to try and spot any perceptible changes that may have been brought on by imbibing some holiday cheers. No such change. Still saw the same shelf-cabinets with their captive books held stiffly in place. So to the question whether this was the way to catch the holiday spirit, I’d have to answer in the negative.


So dismissively moved on to the other typical chores for the day, which may had have taken on a different spin given that this was the day before Christmas.

The wife announced her desire to be done early with her banking needs before the mad rush during the rest of the holidays. Good, I said thinking this little trip might provide the occasion to see if I could catch the spirit of the season.

Gingerly pushing ourselves outdoors to use the car parked in the driveway, we found that we had comfortably bundled up to handle the low temperature; otherwise it would have been easy to catch the sniffles or a cold. Though the possibility of catching the spirit was also evident out there because the cold nippy atmosphere conjured images of white Christmas, without the white stuff that usually hampered driving trips.

Anyway, our bank is situated on a strip mall anchored by a widely-patronized grocery chain. We observed passersby coming from their parked cars bounced about with quickened steps, buoyed obviously by the slowly warming glow of the creeping sun. The grocery chain had temporarily installed in front a rather huge charcoal-fired barbeque pit loaded with big chunks of beef in differing stages of cooking. The engulfing plume of scented smoke surely must have stirred some cravings from those within reach. Though the parking lot was slowly filling up and abuzz with activity, I wondered whether this was where I could catch the spirit.


But uninspired by the absence of any palpable stirring in my soul, I decided to step aside and walked toward one of the tree-lined streets that bounded the mall. I could only console myself with looking at the bare-branch trees lining the sidewalks and median island. Clearly the flora showing signs of a transitional stage – having shedded, folded up, and hibernated for the winter. Clearly signs of some kind of death, or at least, animated suspension. Clearly too, too gloomy a sight to entice an uplifting change in spirit.














Having done her little banking chores, we quickly got back home. And I quickly dressed down to my biking gear deciding to avail of the warmth of the sun which by now had stretched out to it full splendor during its winter hiatus. So round and round the park I pedaled with half a mind on my biking. The other half focused on the familiar sounds emanating from the trusty iPod’s earbuds. And before I noticed it I had already reached the routine’s limit of 45 minutes of mindless circling around the park. A few minutes more and no lingering memories of the routine stayed on, and sadly, still no change in spirit for me.

After depositing the bike in the shed and getting indoors, the wife announced without skipping a beat her next item in the daily agenda. She wanted to attend the four o’clock Mass to be done with her duty for the holy day of Christmas.

Good, I muttered mentally, another chance to catch the spirit of the season, and in a holy place, too. And in a faith that initiated the celebration of the event which is the reason for the season.

So like clockwork we were on our way to church a few minutes past 3:30 pm. One pass-around and we had found an acceptable parking spot. As usual, the wife had sprung out the vehicle the second the car had stopped. But I seemed glued to my seat, apparently from a host of reasons among which may have been inertia, inability to extricate myself from the comfy confines of the car, etc. But more significantly I found that this particular exercise was problematic. Because two days ago we had been here under similar conditions and for similar purposes. And there was no change of spirit then. So what would make today different? And finally with the wife grudgingly pointing herself toward the church steps, I stayed on to stew and grapple with my predicament.

Gee, it might be getting too late for me to catch the spirit. What should I do?

In what seemed an eternity, finally resolved to do a last recourse effort to deal with it. Took pen and paper and started feverishly to commit to paper all the relevant issues confounding the problem, with the very firm commitment to stay in solitude until this thing was resolved. Not a twitch of a nerve or a muscle, until I had the spirit of the season firmly ensconced in my recalcitrant system.

Another eternity later and Voila! I got it! Eureka!

It was with me all this time. Like the glasses we thought we misplaced but actually are unnoticeably perched above our heads, I missed noticing the many subtle changes that have somehow become part and parcel of daily and everyday living.

Recall the popular piece about the footprints in the sand. What we instinctively believe is missing in us is in actuality already there, for us to discover and make grow.

So, remember in our desperate need to catch the spirit, detach a bit and tarry, it may already be with us.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Reason For The Season

The reason for the season, an oft-repeated phrase thrown out there more like a monkey wrench, serving as timely reminder, and at times subtle but still loving warning, for each Christian approaching these Christmas holidays, or winter holidays as many secularists would like everybody to refer to it.

Observing around one can truly say that we have gone a long way from our ancient understanding and celebration of the true reason for the season. Man’s boundless creativeness and resourcefulness, and throw in there, unparalleled business acumen and entrepreneurship, have heavily candy-coated the recurring holidays so much so as to completely submerge its more mystical meanings. In its place we have collectively anointed the superficial manifestations of materialism and secularism to co-opt its rightful place. Even the very name of Christ-mas has been rigorously challenged in many public spheres.


Credit the Christian churches for doggedly keeping the flame aglow, maintaining the same holy vigil and subdued celebration of this most significant event in Christian history, so profound and shrouded with mystery as to escape the easy discernment of the typical Christian today.

In most Christian practices, this liturgical season continues to be referred to as Advent, coming from the Latin word, adventus, meaning the coming or arrival. And this well-anticipated event has been wrapped around the great mystery of the Incarnation. The taking on flesh of the Word of God, who deigned to become one with us and to dwell amongst us.

And this is the central theme that has been gravely diminished in the citizenry’s secular celebration of these holidays, save for the meager or occasional attendances to church rituals and festivities. Our undivided attention and avid participation in sumptuous food-taking, the mad scramble for exciting gifts, the well-planned vacation getaways, the lemmings-like rush to well-attended games, and etc. have all conspired to remove our hearts and minds from the true reason of the season.

How many present-day Christians have even bothered to learn about the implications and ramifications of that great mystery of the Incarnation? And more importantly, what one’s Faith requires from each member to discern and accept about the Incarnation? And one fears that learning sufficiently about this mystery, one may be well disposed to henceforth treat the holidays with a less than spirited enthusiasm if one cannot learn to accept the boundless leap of faith required of each Christian about the Incarnation.

Regarding this mystery, here is what the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) laid out as its infallible definition:

“We confess that in these latter times the only-begotten Son of God appeared in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation – the distinction of natures not having been taken away by this union.”

Stripped of its archaic language and baring its essentials we come up with the following: In the Incarnation we have One Person, the Son of God, and two natures, one divine and the other human, and these two natures are united in one Person. Of great importance in understanding this then is the clear delineation and distinction between “nature” and “person”.

Admittedly, this is a doctrine not very easy to comprehend, much less swallow, and simply because it is beyond the finite ken of human understanding to fully grasp the preternatural significance of this most unique union in one Person. There is absolutely no model to compare this with. Nothing in the past to even hint of any similarity. But accept we must, if we want to keep our faith; and on a more corporeal level, if we want to continue with our devoted celebration of the recurring holidays we all have become so automatically fond of.

Before you leave maybe in your confused state, ask yourself these questions. Does Christ then have two personalities? If not, where is the human person?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Inner Life Of A Cell



Or for a more comprehensive and narrated version, please view here.

Watch and be magically awed, showing the awesome wonders, powers, and complexities of pure chance. Not.

Hat Tip to Instapundit.

Friday, December 14, 2007

An Uncommon Find

Rummaging through some stored boxes which came from the previous residence, I chanced upon this rather uncommon find, which at first glance looked nothing more than a pendant made of silver.

Upon closer scrutiny, we find that it is the remains of what used to be a Liberty Walking Half-Dollar (minted circa 1916-1947).

To read more.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Old Olympic Games Postcards

Because the Olympic Games to be held in Beijing, China, are gearing up just around the corner, it is about time to start thinking things about the games.

The games have had a long history, stretching from ancient to modern times, the last one held less than two years ago in 2006. Starting in 1992, the games were divided into the Summer and the Winter Olympics, though still held every four years but scheduled in such a way that every two years, we have a version of the games. Thus, the last Summer Olympics was held in Athens in 2004 and the last Winter Olympics in 2006 in Turin.

In the 80’s to commemorate the games the International Olympic Committee based in Lausanne, Switzerland, begun printing postcards which showed miniaturized versions of the official posters of the different games. Now the IOC was formally established in 1894 and had is first Summer Olympics in 1896.

To read more.

Article 3: Whether God Exists

Every time such a profound and difficult, though not entirely novel, question is asked, three people easily pop into my mind as the current default authorities who will argue for the negative.

First, I bring the name of Richard Dawkins, British and venerable chairperson at the University of Oxford. Then comes Sam Harris, a forty-something American, who had some kind of an epiphany after an experience with ecstasy, whether it was the real ecstasy mystics aspire for, it was anyway an altered state induced by the drug MDMA popularly known by the same name. And lastly but not least, I think about Christopher Hitchens, a British-American writer/journalist who prefers to refer to himself as antitheist and antireligious. All three are the most visible proponents and believers of atheism, which in common parlance means the non-existence of any god. I am a bit familiar only with Mr. Hitchens because he maintains a frequent and unavoidable presence in American politics and select social circles writing regularly for the magazine, Vanity Fair. And I find core portions of his politics very reasonable and palatable, for my taste. But he still is an avowed atheist, and will not miss any public forum he is invited to advance his belief, or non-belief.

Now, let it be said that atheists as a group are still quite an insignificant minority, with most people still fervently believing that there is God, or a god of various stripes and manifestations. Most if not all religions are predicated on the existence of a Supreme Being that their devotees profess loyalty and fealty to.

But for the majority of us, how many times have we been asked personally how we come to a belief in God? Of course, many of us hide between the catch-all shield of faith to explain away all our esoteric beliefs and dogmas. But believe it or not, belief in the existence of a god does travel beyond, way beyond, just believing because somebody in authority said so. Belief held in faith has or should have some bases of proof, whether scientific or rational and logical.

The three renowned atheists above have their own well-thought and highly-intelligent rationalizations and justifications why to them a god does not exist. And most of us would be awed with their extraordinary intelligence and perspectives as to render many of us unable to completely grasp and discern their erudite narratives. Their gifts of intelligence and insights can at times blind many of us with our simple minds and so-so levels of discernment of things beyond matter and physical reality.

Thus, for many of us, Catholic especially, we seek our understanding of and discernment to the answer to this eternally critical question from a humble source, who lived many centuries ago, in the 1200s, but whose equally-enlightening brilliance and simple grace continue to peal strong, resolute, and still inadequately challenged over the tumultuous ages.

We seek our answers and reliance from a portly Italian Dominican monk who went by the name of Thomas Aquinas, and now suitably honored as the most eminent Father of the Church. From a gratefully enduring Church sustained by his whole body of Thomist philosophy and theology.

Though having lived only for some 50 years, Aquinas was by most standards a very prolific thinker and writer, capping his life-long work with his best known Summa Theologica.

Counted among his seminal work then was his proof of the existence of God, succinctly laid out in his the Five Ways (quinquae viae).

Though hindered by great personal inadequacies, I shall nevertheless try to lay out as simplistically as to be easily understandable and in the least amount of words possible, the 5 proofs presented by Aquinas for the existence of God.

First, his argument of motion. Aquinas, and one is paraphrasing here, observed that some things were in motion and others were not (now we know even better, because everything in nature is in constant motion, from the tiny atom to the entire cosmos). Thus, things have the potentiality for motion and the actuality of motion. Now, to attain the actuality of motion, somebody has to effect that motion, from potentiality to actuality. That something has to first be an actuality before it can effect actuality. If that something is still in potentiality, somebody has to cause it to move. But God is the First Mover because nobody caused him to move.

Second, the nature of efficient cause. Each effect has a cause. Nothing is possible without a cause, an efficient cause. For our very own existence, we cannot attribute it to ourselves since that would imply that we had existed a priori, before we were created to be responsible (as the efficient cause)for our existence. Thus, everything in this world was created by an efficient cause that has not of itself been caused by another efficient cause, or we could go on until infinity assigning efficient causes, until we accept an Uncaused Cause.

Third, possibility and necessity. We find that in nature things are either possible or not. Those that are possible exist for a time, corrupt, and die. Quoting from the translated archaic words of the thinker, “Therefore, not all things are merely possible, but there must exist something already existing. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes.”

Fourth, from the gradation or degrees found in things. Among things and beings we speak about whether they are better, nobler, hotter, heavier, etc. And these gradations are predicated on their resemblance or divergence to something that is the maximum, highest, best, etc. So there must be some highest ideal, standard, great truth, goodness, and every other perfection which must pre-exist everything else.

And finally, the governance and order of the world. This stupendous order must not have come fortuitously, but must have been consciously designed. Especially with regard to things that lack intelligence, something with knowledge and intelligence must have and continue to direct them to their proper ends.

Thus, we spoke in the beginning that even faith in the existence of a god must have some bases in either science or reason and logic, because as Aquinas pondered the existence of God is not self-evident, but can be creditably demonstrated a posteriori. Demonstrated not completely as God knows himself, but to certain demonstrable extent through the “effects” which can be known by us.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Examination Of Conscience

One enduring lesson taught us by Jesuit mentors in school comes under the heading, the examination of conscience. A lesson judged so vital, we had to practice and refine it daily, summarize it weekly, and recall it annually. As daily practice, it came as serious ritual before going to sleep. Apart from night prayers, one set aside time to introspectively look into how one lived that day, examining what one did and thought and making judgment on whether one’s inner voice had been bothered by things that transpired. And this examination always came with the firm resolve to acknowledge personal responsibility and commit to personal changes in one’s behavior and thought.

As a prelude to the proper reception of the Sacrament of Confession or Penance which was scheduled weekly, one is again asked to review the entire week’s behavior. Then a formal telling to a confessor priest, ending with a promise not to have the same recur, coupled with a firmer resolve for amendment in one’s life

Then annually under a formal gathering called a retreat, which was either open or closed, one again took careful stock of the longer period, assessing one’s progress or retrogression. Open, when done as a group. And closed, when one removed oneself from daily routine, sequestered and isolated oneself, and conducted one-on-one sessions with a spiritual director.

Did this strict regimen make for happier or sadder lives? Personally, I couldn’t say either.

But it did make for a humbler look at life, a more tolerant take on grinding realities, maybe a self-satisfying contentment at how one is living life, or maybe even, a more nonchalant, or better still, a more accepting or disinterested resignation to things outside the scope of one’s effective influence. The last one especially is quite important because without it, life can be most frustrating and hopeless, when one looks at the myriad of things wrong with the world around us and one somehow has no influence or power whatsoever in changing them. Things like widespread corruption in government, consummate evils like terrorism and wars, in your face greedy or self-righteous people, etc. Thus, instead of sowing discontent and disdain by exposing and dwelling on extraneous evils, one finds enough personal demons to do personal combat with, enough to last a lifetime.


But what appears above as a quite mundane exercise has actually a larger and better context, in the realm of spirituality.

This concept of taking personal responsibility under a rigid and persistent self-examination with the resultant and consequent resolve for personal amendment is the fertile soil under which personal spirituality can grow, as propounded by the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius of Loyola.

And as popularly practiced you find these self-same principles undergirding many successful programs of self-help, including but not limited to those engaged in ridding people of various addictions. Accepting personal responsibility and moving on.

And as one looks around the world of today, it is easy for one to sense that there is great need for this practice.

Hopefully, to reduce the projective hatred of people toward others expressed as acts of terrorism and uncalled for violence, or to curb the heavy and incessant demands by both the governed and the politicians on government to resolve problems of peoples’ poverty, absence of health insurance, lawlessness, etc.

Let’s start with those.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

USA: Land Of Immigrants, truly

As of November 2007, culled from the best data available and most reliable extrapolation possible, there are now 40.5 million immigrants in the US which has a current total population of 301 million. These figures take cognizance of possible undercounts, survey misses, and other special categories like those living in group quarters.

That number includes both legal and illegal immigrants. And immigrants are those who are foreign-born and not citizens of the US at birth.

50% of illegal immigrants are Mexicans and from Central America. While those from South America registered one-third.

Again based on the numbers, illegal immigration contributed 50% of the total current increases in the immigrant population. But as a percentage of total immigrants, their number of 12.4 (adjusted) million constitutes 32.6 %

It should be noted that prior to the 1970s, illegal immigration was quite minimal. And in the intervening years up to the present, at least 4.1 million illegal aliens had their status legalized and received green cards from a couple of amnesty programs in the past.

10.3 million of these immigrants arrived from 2000 to the present, registering the highest number of immigrants in any 7-year period throughout history.

Being the most populous state in the Union, California registered the highest increases in immigrants, giving it almost 10 million immigrants residing within its borders. The state has a total extrapolated population of 36 million. Thus, California alone contributed 27% to the total immigrant population.

As a share of total population, immigrants contribute 12.6%, overhauled only by the years from 1900 to 1920 when total US population was not that much compared to today.

One undeniable fact stands out in all these phenomenal numbers. New immigration is the biggest single factor responsible for all this. And if this trend continues unabated, in 2060 the country will be adding 3.3 million residents to the total population from both immigrants and natives. Right now, the immigrants add about 1 million people each year.

Some pertinent data relating to the old homeland, the Philippines. In a top field of 25 countries of birth of immigrants, the Philippines garnered 4th place with 1.6 million, overtaken by much more populous countries such as Mexico, China, and India. It also showed among the highest for those who elected US citizenship, 60.3%.

On the poverty and near-poverty table, the Philippines placed last in the top field of 25 countries, registering only 4.2%. Doing even better compared to first-world country immigrants from UK, Germany, Japan, Canada, etc.

On educational attainment, Ages 25 to 64, the Philippines again placed better for all the top-25 countries, except for Germany, UK, Canada, and Japan.


All the data above were extracted from a report of the Center For Immigration Studies, which in turn was based largely on the most recent Current Population Survey (CPS) conducted by the Census Bureau.


Credit
Some critical areas of serious concern which cry for our attention.

A good majority of the new immigrants are not only unskilled but have very limited education. This translates in reality to lower incomes and thus more likely for them to avail of government assistance programs like Medicaid, food stamps, and even IRS credits such as in earned income and additional children. And a surprise revelation that even minus valid SS numbers, IRS has ruled that immigrants can still claim the additional children tax credit.

And given the new numbers, it may simply be not right to claim outright that these new immigrants do the jobs that natives do not want. From among a similar group of natives, those with limited skills and education, there are potentially enough of them unemployed and unutilized to take care of all the jobs that these new immigrants are doing at the present time. Maybe it simply requires for them to be incentivized and/or given the proper opportunity and information. Over the years, the numbers of employed coming from this group have been declining.

Talks about giving amnesty and a path to citizenship for the 12 million illegals already here may be a compassionate move to make, but at least our eyes should be opened to the onerous repercussions this is going to have on the economy and the government assistance programs. Given that most of these immigrants are unskilled and with limited education, and thus most likely to tax even more the government programs. Poverty rates will still be high, with many new citizens paying no federal taxes while availing of more government services.

The report from CIS concludes with a very ominous statement:

Setting aside the lower socio-economic status of immigrants, no nation has ever attempted to incorporate nearly 38 million (adjusted: 40m) newcomers into its society.


Indeed.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Humble Attempt At Free Verse

MUSINGS OF A SOLITARY PERSON SEARCHING FOR KINDRED SPIRIT



It’s been quite sometime that I’ve found that this mortal coil I’m tied to
has become rather burdensome.
It’s not that suddenly the load has become unbearable;
nor because its multiplying cares have conspired to overwhelm.
It’s not even because of the countless frustrations it has spawned daily.

Why then the wanton indifference,
the lackadaisical and dreary outlook to the unfolding reality that slowly rolls in each day ?
Culled from a veritable storehouse of life experiences, the answer is readily unraveled.
The uncanny realization that earthly life is bereft of meaning,
so fleeting and so vaporous in its content.

Finding that nothing of life induces inspiration to pursue it with at least decent fervor.
No wonder then its trite challenges are met with tepidity and nonchalance.
Finding that the trifling values and pursuits that present-day man has clothed life with,
I look down with derision and disdain.

Harboring no ill will toward man himself
but only at the blatantly hedonistic pursuits that preoccupy his day.
A gnawing yearning for something more meaningful and profound is felt spiritually.
Things that satisfactorily fulfill my very discriminating criteria for goals worthy of pursuit.

Things that relate to the higher and noble nature of man.
Ultimate causes that address what comes after this so inscrutable existence.
And the pangs of impatience obstinately tear at my consciousness,
Making it very difficult to exhibit even feigned interest
and enthusiasm at the very mundane concerns of everyday living.

Despite the gloomy picture painted above,
the quest for meaning is doggedly pursued if only to justify continued existence.
The ultimate purposes are easily articulated with nary an iota of doubt.
To mortify and bring the material body to complete and total subjugation
by the spirit through the strict practice of A S C E T I C I S M.

This determination gives me impetus to continue with life.
It proffers the clarity of vision to see through the hazy veil
that shrouds the real purpose of man here on this earth.

That he is here only as an itinerant traveler,
preordained to begin his real life in the spirit
devoid of the constrictive trappings of the flesh.
Still, while the mind and spirit share a clear and unstinting grasp of my real goals in life,
Keeping in this frame of mind is most of the time difficult
and calamitous lapses are not uncommon,
Making it necessary to incessantly remind myself of the guiding principles
that should rule my daily living.

But life ought to be more than just an excruciating tolerance
and nonchalance of the events that shape it.
It ought to be more than just trying to survive the trip so the goal can be attained.
It is still within one’s capabilities to make life a more positive experience.

One should be able to look forward to each day with child-like anticipation,
in tandem with a driving passion to be an active and catalytic participant in it.
And not just a passive onlooker being bandied about,
satisfied with just trying to salvage the most out of a situation.

If such a possibility should exist,
I ought to dig deep into myself and my innermost resources to find out.
To enable me to look at life in a positive perspective
so that I can approach each day with promise and excitement.

The search might be made more meaningful
if I can find a kindred spirit to share my sentiments and philosophy.
Is it possible to find such a person in this lifetime,
or am I so alienated from the rest ?

In my own peculiar and quaint ways
I pursue the search for kindred soul for I still have to find one.
While everyday, I struggle and grope around trying to maintain the precarious equilibrium
that makes life bearable and livable.
At every turn and every tick of the clock,
confrontational situations stare at me,
Demanding undivided attention
and unyielding to anything less than total commitment.

Most of the time, the battles seem to weigh against me
resulting in a troubling and agonizing sense of frustration.
And as if these were not sufficient for the day’s share of troubles,
the vagaries of my sensual emotions float around the mind seeking fulfillment.

Sensuous desires, definedly moral taboos, buffet the will;
Are the learned moral values of our youth still relevant or what ?
The many familial concerns also add their share of bitter medicine
to an already water-logged soul.

Indeed, life seems not to be getting any better in terms of achieving a yeoman’s share
of those fleeting moments of seeming peace and tranquility
so that my mind can relax and savor the beautiful vistas it surveys
as it glides through the times of my life.

Death seems such a sweet and tempting alternative to extricate oneself from all this living.
but in an inexplicable, almost sadistic, way one can’t help believing
that these trials are cathartic and may indeed make for a more saintly life.

For do not all these bring out in each one of us
the same godly dignity that permeated Christ's earthly life?


(Republished)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Land Of The Free

Heard or read lately of any pernicious virus/Trojan Horse/etc going crazily viral in the Web lately?

Maybe not. Maybe because the devilish sprites in the virtual world have simmered down, or simply grew up and matured.

But still, it is best to be protected from them 24/7. Like those inscrutable jihadist/ terrorists, who knows when they will see fit to strike again?

It is easy to imagine why we could let our guards down. Most of the tools and measures we need to give us some sense of security still cost more than a pretty penny.

Take anti-virus software for example. True, companies like Comcast offer free anti-virus protection (McAfee) to their subscribers, but it still costs more than a pretty penny connecting to Comcast’s broadband Internet. Have you asked lately how much to get the latest of Norton’s anti-virus?

But for those desirous of owning their own free-standing anti-virus software, but one that could be had for FREE, that is still a reality. AVG Free offers one ample protection and has been popular with many users. Home users can download the software free and can use it in as many PCs at home that they have.

And there are still loads of free software out there for different purposes, with many of them being “open source” software.



Even the seemingly unchallenged but dearly-priced Microsoft Office suite has a rival that can be had for free – The Star Office. And this is not a new kid on the block. I still have on file the version that came in about 5 floppy disks which I downloaded for free many years ago. The proprietary owner, Sun Microsystems, had this available many, many years ago, and it has undergone countless revisions and/or enhancements. Now you can even get this as part of the Google Pack – as a free bonus. And guess what, it is not only compatible with Microsoft Office, it can do most anything MS Office can do, and more. It is open-source.

And there are many more freebies, as multi-media software, media players, and image editing software.

There is Picasa which comes with the Google Pack, one of many photo-editing software out there.

There is Audacity if one is into recording and editing sounds. And it works across many different platforms – Windows, Mac, Linux, etc. Much like the commercial software, this can record live audio and convert tapes into different formats like from .wav files to mp3s.



And if you want to try a media player other than Windows Media Player or QuickTime or Real, you may want to try another open-source, VideoLAN.

It seems there is a glut of freeware and shareware out there to satisfy the most discriminating computer users.

One just needs to be selective and cautious about the credibility and reliability of each one. Fortunately the web itself does provide the information necessary to learn about these free software.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Daring Fear

Fear and audacity two more emergency passions that elicit irresistible movement in man’s sense appetites.

A fortnight ago, a physically fragile member of our extended family approached us with great emotional rigor about her strong body-shaking fears, essentially fears from bodily harm. Without anything as much as a fully-revealed justifiable reason, other than the result of a little rough physical contact two prior days ago, she expressed unmitigated fear for somebody close to her – her own husband.

But the mere initial exposure of such fear coming from such a fragile individual galvanized the rest of the family, including us the parents, into quick action to mitigate the situation. The husband was immediately called into the carpet, admonished and asked to pack his things and move out of their house, leaving wife and two kids behind for what was planned as an appropriate cooling-off period.

Not given the opportunity to air his side, the husband after some weak resistance meekly acceded, unable to go against the collective wrath of hovering siblings and parents. Reassured and justified, everybody else sighed and felt peace and serenity were temporarily restored, with the long night ending with the wife and kids lovingly escorted to their car for the one block away trip home. With fears allayed and serenity reigning, good sound sleep that night was sweet reward.

But as the intervening days would reveal the strong fears expressed by the wife were slowly unraveled to be unfounded or may have been from the get-go faked to generate compassion and sympathy. An effective ploy to drive husband out of the house and to enjoy full exclusive use and control of their nice house. For a day later, the husband was served a restraining order and a case of assault and battery to boot.

An ideal scenario fit for a screenwriter’s dream of the classic tragedy stirred and driven by vengeance and subterfuge. Having done what she did, she not only drove the husband out of the house, out of his family especially from a kid he has very deep connections with, but also, into the ground.

But that is not the main story.

The storyline is about fear.

And fear dons many caricatures in human life, too. Everybody fears death but since it seems so remote and distant, nobody really worries about that kind of fear. Or any fear that is in the future. But a fear around the corner is something else. It can easily engender body shaking and unbalanced thinking, and sleepless and listless nights, too.

Fear comes also in unrecognizable boxes. A man can fear working or is repulsed by the idea of work, or maybe even “allergic” to it. But we know that kind of fear comes in the package of laziness. We only know too well that man fears disgrace before his fellow men. If it is present disgrace, we call that fear, shame. And if for some foreseeable future, we say shamefacedness.

Now, in the man or woman who suddenly finds himself faced with formidable evil that appears with such great magnitude, his/her fear translates to amazement. Or if the danger is very sudden, imminent and unexpected, man’s fear may be expressed in stupor or paralysis, occasioned by the crippling inability to do anything. However if the dangers or misfortune perceived are petty, man’s fear may be expressed as simply anxiety.

But why does man fear and why does the idea of fear in others brings on great emotional reactions on those around the fearful person?

You see the most primal cause of fear, believe it or not, is the love for good. A man or woman may fear some person or thing because that person or thing may be threatening the good in his/her life – the good health, the good peace and calm of family life, the good safety of body and mind, etc.

Another basic cause of fear is man’s perception and/or conviction that he is unable to cope with the dangers facing him. The inability to resolve issues is a very strong motivator for fear.

Thus, feeding on fears or exploiting the emotions of fear is a much effective ploy to influence other people’s actions and emotions. Especially if the parties involved are loved family members.

The most recent example narrated above adds another notch. – on the aged timber post of life’s many great lessons.

Graphics credits here, here, and here.

The Many Faces Of Anger

Anger wears many faces, and in many of its ugly manifestations, it conjures viral images of evil, vile, malicious, and destructive. But it isn’t always so. That man possesses it as part of his nature immediately speaks to us of the noble good that it may be harnessed for.

As one of the irascible passions of man, or more popularly referred to as emergency passions, it stands unique in a couple of instances.

First, as one of the emergency passions, it partakes of and addresses good that is very difficult to obtain, but more realistically, of evil that is difficult to avoid. Thus, anger is immediately called upon when man is abruptly confronted with evil that is difficult to surmount. Thus, in an emergency situation. Remember Dante’s treatise on the hierarchy of Hell? The lowest rung reserved to those who cannot acquit themselves from sins that are most easy to avoid?

And unlike the rest of the passions of man, anger has no contrary. It has no opposite. It stands solitary, lonely, and most unique.

Many theologians opine that an added quality to it is that it is a mixed passion. It is concerned with both good and evil.

A man or woman therefore who strikes with extreme measures against a known enemy who seeks to destroy him, his family, and loved ones, is said to be using the motive force of anger for good. To help preserve his life and that of his loved ones. Survival after all is primal in man. On the other hand, the aggressor similarly moved by anger becomes your unholy incarnation of evil as manifested in this world. An instrument for evil most sinister.

In any manifestation anger has a two-fold purpose. Firstly, it is used to seek vengeance. For the good-hearted it is resorted to right a wrong, and for the dark-hearted to wreak havoc and destruction. The former feels good and justified with his act, but in this world we inhabit, the latter also in most instances feel the loathsome satisfaction for having done the evil deed. The unworldly satisfaction of seeing pain and suffering in the faces and lives of those inflicted upon.

Funny that the virtue of justice is also factored in the manifestation of anger. We express anger because we desire justice for the wrong done us. Thus we try to carefully weigh the damage done against the vengeance sought. Except that for the dark-hearted, the expression of anger is to extract vengeance simply out of hate, or for some falsely-perceived good to be derived from it. A case of our hard-wired free will blindsided by an erroneous conception of good.

Secondly, anger then takes on a likely partner, hate, the passion opposite to love. Except that the good-hearted “hates” the evil that was done, and the dark-hearted simply hates.

We know of a multitude of instances in life that can cause anger. But as always, it involves real injury, or fanciful or perceived injury. And that injury becomes the dark symbol for contempt and hate for the person or thing causing it.

And in an uncanny twist anger also brings on the simple passion of pleasure. The good-hearted feels pleasure and contentment having received recompense for the wrongdoing. And the dark-hearted could also feel the unhealthy and sick pleasure of knowing the injury done.

In summary, anger is such a complex passion. Armed and moved by it, men become strong and energetic in seeking justice. But in the process, anger can also impair one’s abilities to weigh things prudently and impartially, thus resulting in taking actions of vengeance that are way out of proportion to the injury perceived or suffered.

And as one of life’s lessons, we have learned that frequently we are predisposed to extract vengeance way beyond what the injury merits.

The case of the hammer being used to swat a fly.

What is the just means for those so wrongly trampled upon?


Graphics Credit

Thursday, November 01, 2007

To Blog Or Not To Blog

There is a curious exchange of ideas in the blogosphere on how any gifted blogger or would-be blogger should assess or weigh the decision on whether to blog or not, or to continue blogging if already engaged in it. And since this is making the rounds among the econbloggers, one can expect that monetary values and/or considerations will factor into the equation.

Thus after scanning through a representative slice of the blog entries on the subject, including ardently poring through the many insightful and thoughtful comments, one expectedly harvested a net-ful of Economics jargon.

Thus one is reminded of opportunity costs, comparative advantage, loss leader, market power, economic cost and benefit, and the like.

Of course, there are also thrown in the more mundane factors such as ego-gratification, vanity, fame, fortune, and even narcissism.

But nevertheless, the above could very well aptly apply to the entire blogosphere, inclusively defined as those maintaining blogs and all the regular commentators latching on to the different blogs, representing both "the choir" and " the designated hitters". The former drawn approvingly like moths to the authors' partisan views or particular bents and the latter are those drawn to do intellectual combat with their own adversarial views. And as we well know these populate and typify the wordy comments sections of the different heavy-traffic blogs.

So the question to be answered by the blogger and his ever-faithful cadre is whether they will be able to deal with and satisfy the criteria espoused by our renowned economists. And maybe in the process, add in also learning what motivates them to blog picking from the more mundane factors.

Let us start with opportunity costs. To the uninitiated, any decision that involves making a choice between two or more options carries an opportunity cost. If one spends time and effort blogging, what are one giving up and what are their values? If blogging where the blogger gets paid nada involves giving up gainful employment, then what one could get in gainful employment becomes the opportunity costs incurred in blogging. Unless other factors are ushered in.

For example, noted economist, Prof. Mankiw, considers blogging a personal hobby, thus we assume he gets some kind of personal gratification and/or amusement out of doing it, at the very least. Definitely, non-monetary and because he uses Blogger, his blogging's cost is essentially limited to the time expended. Lucky him! Other less renowned probably do so as crass expression of their narcissism, or vanity. One feels that uneasy sense browsing through some of the innumerable blogs and their rich trove of commentaries. Let me tell you about what I could find browsing through the blogs and comments in some blogs domiciled in the old homeland. A number of commenters especially are with little trace of subtlety engaged in attempting to outdo, outwit, outsmart, out spit or just simply outword each other.

Now, I particularly like the next one, comparative advantage - the hallmark and basis for international trade, as we were taught in school. But in this instance the comparative advantage dynamic applies this way. Aside from blogging, what other type work can you do well where you can derive better and more benefits? For an economist, is it going to full-time teaching, doing valuable research work, or writing in professional journals?

Especially in the category of political blogs, many of the popular and erudite bloggers are never at a loss for words and ideas addressing the myriad of political problems confronting the government and its officials. And many of them are only too eager to gratuitously slam the government and its officials for taking actions contrary to what they have exposed or proposed. Now, therefore, shouldn't those bloggers be or at least attempting to be part of government and thus work for its betterment? And that area would definitely be where overall society could gain some comparative advantage. And not just for our dear bloggers to continue to inhabit the world of verbiage which is what blogging essentially is.

And there are a good number of all-knowing bloggers that one could recommend for public office with its attendant rigors such as the difficult task of convincing the electorate of their electability. Would they take the challenge? Are they daring enough to disembark from their lofty perches and commune with the dirt and grime that characterize public service? Espousing ideas without the concomitant responsibility to act on them is weighed in as a much easier, less stressful, less risky, and ultimately maybe more ego-enhancing alternative

What about loss leader? Actually it is a marketing term, which is a pricing strategy of selling something below cost in an effort to promote another more profitable item. In blogging it applies this way. Blogging is undertaken not simply for the sake of blogging, but as a step toward something else. It could be used as a stepping stone toward getting a cushy job with mainstream media, or for showing one's skill set to prospective employers much like submitting one's resume’ to possible employers. Or because one hopes to promote books or any published work through the blog. Many have done this.

Maybe the world may come out a little better if more bloggers and addicted commenters made similar assessments of their present preoccupations.

When all is said and done anyway, the wise words of Thomas a' Kempis still ring true above the din:

"Verily, when the day of judgment comes, we shall not be asked what we have read, but what we have done, nor how learnedly we have spoken, but again what we have done."

To read more about the discussion, turn to:
Roughtype.com
Dani Rodrik
Economist

Friday, October 26, 2007

Of Harmonicas and Gyroplanes

One could suppose that playing the harmonica while at the same time flying a fragile and unpredictably unstable ultralight gyroplane could be a plausible multi-tasking act.

But trying to master playing a harmonica while concurrently trying to learn about flight and flying from scratch, or from the ground up (pun intended), is appearing to be quite a daunting and irritating task.

While learning the basic factors to be considered in flight, which are lift, weight, thrust, and drag, are considerably easy to visualize, learn, and remember, one has to be extra careful not to throw in the factors of blow and draw. Huh? Well, the last two represent motions of the mouth when playing the harmonica. Blow is when one exhales on the holes of the harmonica, and draw is when you suck in air from the holes of the harmonica.

Concurrently reading materials for both activities could easily lead to a hair-pulling confusion on which lessons apply to which. Let me see, circular breathing. Is that a lesson pertinent to plane take-off or what? Well, dullard, that is a difficult process in harmonica playing where one learns to exhale and inhale at the same time. What? Yes, inhale from the nose while exhaling or blowing on the harmonica in your mouth. Now, make sure the notes do not break or are interrupted. And adding to my learning misery is my stubborn inability to learn it, even while I am feeling faint and dizzy earnestly trying to acquire the skill. I may have to pay with countless fainting spells before I can get the handle on this tongue-twister of a process.

And speaking of handles, is this the gyroplane lever that controls the tail rotor, or the collective lever that controls pitch and forward flight? Oh, gee.

I have been gathering during the past weeks the initial materials (pictured here) necessary to start my late-term journey toward first mastering a musical instrument before singing the blues or flying to the great beyond (more unfunny puns), to add to the number of musical instruments that I have mastered which numbers none; and secondly, in a dogged pursuit to acquire an ultralight gyroplane, toward learning how to fly the damned dragon fly.

With harmonica playing, I am confident I have collected all necessary materials to insure some amount of progress. The literature with a plethora of practice songs has all been printed out and compiled in one neat folder with each page protectively enclosed in plastic, the latter to preclude any liquid damage from abundance of salvia extruding from my mouth while blowing and drawing on that silly thing. I have even on a previous trip purchased two additional harmonicas just in case. Just in case, I get too mad and start throwing the thing around. Or instead of using my soft kissable mouth, I start using my grated teeth on it. And You-Tube has been a welcomed harbinger of basic lessons galore, thanks to man's innate nature to show off on a grand scale, video yourself and publish on the net. But then again, maybe it is man's inborn desire to teach others of skills passed and learned. Now, the only thing I need is a live teacher to slap the back of my stubborn head and point me to the proper ways to play the harmonica.

But compared with flight and flying, it is much like night and day. This is much more involved, and requires one to be conversant with physics, possessed of workable understanding of the vagaries of winds and weather, adept at not throwing up during flight, and etc., which decidedly I am none of those.

Then after this, if I am lucky enough to safely clear this obstructive thicket, I would need to circle around and look for a cheap-enough flight school to get some basic training on flying. Hopefully, it includes getting the chance to fly solo on a gyroplane. Silly, it will have to be solo, it is a one-seat gyroplane that I am contemplating.

So far I have collected several books and more are forthcoming from Amazon. But right now, I am still way up in the clouds and in the thick of a fog (more puns, hehehe) unable to see ground and know where I am at.

But tomorrow is another day, another new day for a renewed look at the flight plan.

Up, up, and away . . . . while blowing and drawing..

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Wind As Productive Energy

Nasa Picture
Today as the unaffected rest of us in the United States go about our workaday lives, about a million harried and displaced residents in the Southern part of California, specifically San Diego County, are caught in the vise-like grip of fear and uncertainty caused by fearsome conflagrations unabatedly fueled by fierce winds popularly referred to by natives as the gusty Santa Ana winds. This added deadly factor has made possible the indiscriminate razing of hundreds of thousand of acres dotted with many precious residences, in spite of having the best fire-fighting technology and people in the world. Many separate fires that now may have been purposely started by loathsome arsonists.

We no doubt fully understand the destructive powers of wind energy in deadly combination with other factors, such as dry as tinderbox conditions in certain wooded or grass areas whether accidentally or purposely combusted with the introduction of sparks or fire.

And overly cautious people that we are, I and the wife wondered whether such an unwanted calamity could happen in our very neck of the woods, Tracy, in Northern California. We see hills and mountains to the west, openly bald-headed and coated brown by dead flora. And we have the added ingredient of gusty winds, too. The Altamont Pass being home to thousands of wind turbines that rely on steady streams of winds to turn them on.

And of course, it could happen. As a matter of fact, it has happened in the recent past and we used to see unmistakable signs of their aftermath as evidenced by easily distinguishable blackened spots while driving through the pass after reading or hearing about them.

While cognizant of its gale-force destructive powers, we like to think of the wind in more benign, soothing and constructive ways. The wind as fatherly image blowing on lifeless sails of ships carrying homeward-bound sailors to familiar ports, or so our early children’s books used to fancifully regale us with.


The Altamont Pass which actually knifes through a range of stretched-out hills of comparative height and ominously called Diablo Range, is precisely one such location where wind energy has been harnessed to provide an alternate source to electrify our homes, our businesses and industries. The pass and several other locations in the state proudly define the area’s worthy contributions to the country’s resolve to tap other sources of energy to satiate our ever-growing needs for power. A commendable drive toward possibly independence from foreign energy sources such as oil.

Geographically the pass could be considered a defining landmark for Tracy because it separates it from its western neighbors. Like the daring riding adventures in the Western movies of the past, the narrow mountain pass with its maze of winding uphill and downhill grade have to be carefully negotiated to arrive in Tracy from the west. And would be the only straight and direct way to Tracy, of course, discounting the other surface roads and the original Altamont Pass Road which can be taken as alternate routes when not using Interstate 580.

But beyond this romanticized depiction of the pass, the Altamont Pass is stellar because of the pivotal role it plays in the generation of wind energy for the state.

According to the California Energy Commission, the pass is one of several major wind energy resource areas in the state, the rest are: Solano, Pacheco Pass, Tehachapi Ranges, and San Gorgonio Pass.

On this list two are located in Northern California, namely Solano and Altamont.

Three sites on the list, namely Altamont, San Gorgonio Pass and Tehachapi Ranges, comprise 95 percent of the commercial wind energy generated in the state. And to understand the global impact of this production, this represents 11% of the world’s wind- generated energy.

And to reduce further to terms we can more readily relate to:

“With an average California household using 6,500 kWh of electricity per year, 3.5 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of annual electricity generation from wind resource in the state provides electricity sufficient to power over 530,000 homes.”


Altamont alone generates 1.071 gWh from 4,788 wind turbines (2003 figures), making it the world’s largest wind farm in terms of number of turbines. These turbines are spread out on hilltops stretching some 15 kilometers in diameter, many of them visible from the highway.

So gusty winds are not necessarily bad all the time. At the very least like most fortuitous events in nature, they are indifferent.

And loosely speaking if it is any consolation, Southern California’s ongoing wind-caused losses may somehow be offset by Northern California’s benefits from wind-generated energy resources.

Credits for Altamont panoramic picture.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Little Dipper Swim School - Pleasant Hill, CA

Little Dipper Swim School 552 Boyd Rd Pleasant Hill, Ca 94523 (925) 932-5861











Click here to learn more.

Watch and be inspired: A video

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Tracy, CA: Is it Biker-Friendly?

Lately I have had ample opportunity to look into the bicycles that have been sitting idly in the storage sheds at the back, slowly collecting dust and becoming hapless victims to rust.

They have been cleaned, greased, re-aligned, tires pumped, and finally checked off as roadworthy. So now I am the grateful user of three bikes of different sizes and configurations. One is a full-sized menacing Fuji racer left behind some years back by my twins when they finally left the house for good. The other two while of similar stance and profile have different uses, one having balloon tires and intended off-road, while the other has racer tires and looks like the typical wimpy road bike. The hulky off-roader was left by my daughter who moved to another house, and the wimpy one I believe was left behind by a girlfriend of one of the twins and never reclaimed


So now the late autumn afternoons have seen me exploring the immediate environs of our development, treading faithfully along bike/pedestrian lanes which fortunately encircle the entire grid bounded by Lammers to the West, Corral Hollow to the South, and Byron Road and 11th St., North and South respectively. Stretching maybe close to three miles circumferentially, it makes for a good afternoon workout.

The few leisurely driving jaunts that we have taken around the city, going through the new and not- so- new residential housing developments around the city made us aware of their ample provision for bike lanes along inside roads and around the outside perimeters. Thus, one has been encouraged to plan for extended ventures farther out of the comforting familiarity of home and to boldly explore the many storied nooks and crannies of the city of Tracy.

Driving around one cannot miss the many bike lanes around city streets. And a little Googling even informs us that the city is ever vigilant about providing bike lanes, when it can and has the opportunity. Thus, a bike lane(s) with no parking allowed will stretch along Grant Line from Corral Hollow to Tracy Boulevard. Has this particular ordinance been passed and implemented? Will try to see the next time I get the chance to drive over in that area.

So from that scanty perspective one is predisposed to declare that Tracy appears to be biker-friendly enough. But the next few months will confirm or challenge that when I do get the chance to pedal my bike along the different areas. Till then.

From where I have been, I have seen many bare-headed bike riders. So bike crash helmets are not mandatory in Tracy? Google was not helpful in assisting me on this score.

Officer Sir, Mr. Policeman. Can you supply me with the answer to this question? It would be seriously appreciated.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

What Differences Perspectives Make!

My blogmate Phil over at PhilippinesPhil ponders on certain observations acquired with living life large in the country of his Filipina wife. Certain life experiences that are judged unique or different enough to merit a comparative look to life in his old homeland, The United States. And since our family is on the same boat except that it has gone the opposite way, couldn’t help but be piqued with interest at his and his commenters observations.

So I thought I’d scribble a thing or two about it, this time from the perspective of the observee rather than the observer.

And I say what differences perspectives make! And stoutly glad to note that the observations are coming from transplanted residents in my old homeland, the Philippines.

Because we ex-pat Filipinos know too well that indeed during daytime and all through the night, Filipinos tend to congregate outside their houses and converse in audibly loud conversations among the neighbors. Children cavort on streets and are shooed indoors only when daylight has faded. And houses are so located and constructed such that neighbors invariably hear what the others are listening on radio, the kind of music being played, and even intimate conversations among family members. And even what the neighbors are cooking because the smells waft through and permeate the neighborhood from open windows and doors. And this even when tall fences separate the houses.

And city streets are almost always crammed with pedestrians walking about or simply loitering around. Even driving around or between towns can be hazardous given the propensity of residents, their pets and fowl, to walk in the middle of or cross over roads and highways unmindful of vehicular traffic.

People appear to be everywhere. And even people passing by your house look and stare at whoever they can find visible, whether outside or from open windows or doors.

This revealing difference almost always gets into my conversations with the wife during our trips back.

And we think that a good part of the reason for this is the hot and humid weather which carries over even into the dead of night. Thus, many males loitering outside are naked from the waist up, in shorts and slippers, or in sando (sleeveless T-shirts). Staying indoors, especially where accommodations are tight and crowded, can be quite challenging. Staying outdoors as long as practicable then becomes the practical alternative.

I confess I revert to this practice when I get back there, retracing childhood when going to our rooms was when it was time to sleep, no earlier and no later. Except when the rains come. But then it gets cool enough inside for comfort.

Of course, a happy part of the culture is also being gregarious, leading to a lot of fraternizing and exchanging tsismis (light banter) with the neighbors. Some would say, tending toward being busybodies.

And needless to state, many poor people in a third-world setting practically live outdoors anyway. Their abodes very crude and threadbare, their worldly possessions very minimal.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Small-Mindedness, Pettiness, And Unkindness

Qualities that easily come to mind when thinking about human interaction.

Though one is confident that we try to avoid exhibiting them in the countless situations where we have to interact with our fellow humans, whether on a personal face-to-face basis or remotely like when writing.

But be that as it may, we still find ourselves falling into that undesirable rut, manifesting signs of being small-minded, petty, and unkind. It can’t be helped all the time. We are naturally slanted toward paying attention to interminable details and minutiae in our everyday workaday lives. We tend to be blinded by our self-righteous views of our own selves, giving way to unmindful neglect of the delicate feelings of others.

Still, we have to take that extra effort, lest it also infects the broader aspects of our lives that require us to be more open and tolerant to the larger realities around us.

I fear that this situation is quite widespread in the newest medium which have opened for us limitless access to the most numbers of people around the world, through their creative works or writings in the virtual library which is the Internet.

We are not only gregarious but socially competitive. Scoring points with others gives the animus and impetus to feel good about ourselves. Feeling justified and satisfied. That we are smart and can compete and fare well with similarly-blest individuals. We must confess we get some “kicks” going this way. But in the process, do we have to bring others down, so we can promote ourselves and our ideas? Thus, is it necessary to, say, bring the United States down because we want to promote the idea the we are just as good as them, in the areas of social mores, intelligence, politics, or what have you? Or, to namecall other persons who we find espousing ideas or publicly acting when perceived to be inferior to ours?

I specifically point as example to a well-read Philippine blog, who will only introduce any subject about the US, if in the process the country can be disparaged and portrayed in a bad light. Thus, while entries like this are far and in between, one can almost be sure that when the occasional entry involves the US, it will be because it can be parlayed as a shill piece invariably having the US come out as the unlovable villian, with the possible exception of entries involving Hollywood movies, which of course are US originated. Is it simply a manifestation of visceral hatred or dislike? Does a person harbor such unrelenting disdain for such a huge and diverse entity? Does such a one wake up in the morning, feeling cheery, generous, loving, etc. but at the same time concurrently harboring, however latently, this long-running disdain for a country so that when the opportunity and occasion align, another fusillade will be forthcoming?

I am not saying that this happens uniquely to this one individual, because I also witness this in others, who typically come out as very passionate and oozing with love for country, family, honor, and all the good stuff.

Is it possible then for such two irreconcilable extremes to co-exist in one mind or personality? Love wildly, but hate wildly, too?

This continues to baffle me. Not because I see myself as this pristine and could do no wrong storehouse of virtues and grace. But because, if as a transgressor myself I can see the falsehood of certain of my actions and am impelled when discovered to resolve to rectify and make amends, aren’t these same epiphanies shared by all of humanity?

Or is it simply, the case of the “square peg in the round hole”?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Atenean Romulo L. Neri – In The Spotlight

Some disjointed, and hopefully not totally rambling, thoughts on the above subject. Read at your own risk and nothing is written and/or claimed as “gospel truth”. And this early, here is my personal disclaimer/representation as to where exactly I am coming from. I hope it is sufficient for the purposes I have summarily envisioned in my mind.

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The Philippines’ former NEDA head, former presidential economic adviser, and now present CHED czar, Romulo L. Neri, for a good eleven hours yesterday was under intense and glaring spotlight and scrutiny in the Philippine Senate being asked to testify about what he knew about the now embattled NBN deal (currently suspended by President/under TRO by SC) between the Philippine and Chinese governments.

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A few days prior to the testimony we saw the Philippine media in close cadence with a vocal and vociferous segment of the local blogosphere (quite few in numbers when compared with the total), with long knives unsheathed and pointy claws bared, wasting no time and giving no quarters trying to sandbag, second-guess, pin to a corner, dove-tail, mold, define, or negatively allude to Neri’s person, his integrity, whether he will demonstrate strict compliance with his forsworn duties to his God, country, family, and maybe even the family pet. One even questioned the educational values of the Jesuit institution that Neri spent his HS in. Sanctimoniously implying that Jesuit schools mold some kind of automaton which will robotically act as taught and admonished, subtly castrated of innate free will and the rest of the noble qualities derived from his human nature.

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And while the testimony was ongoing, the self-anointed busybodies in the Comments sections of some blogs were quick almost unanimously (in echo chamber fashion) to denounce Neri, and these pure-of-heart Galahads in the warm embrace of their sanctimony were quite generous in their ad-hominem labels for Neri, ranging from one derisively alluding to a locally derided sexual orientation to one comparing him to a many-celled parasite. One wonders how many of these people have even served a part of their lives in earnest public service, in the country they so avidly profess to love, honor, and serve. But instead have themselves taken the less-resistant way out – to work and live in a foreign country. Like in some more prosperous Asian country or in Europe, maybe?

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Funny but I can’t remember, maybe because I simply quickly scanned through a number of the pertinent sources in the Internet, any one item of statement or comment that at least claim that Neri “lied” in his testimony so far. . Yes, he declined to answer some questions, whose answers would have involved bringing into the picture his immediate superior, the President, without first consulting with that person. And most everybody is agreed that that President, however tainted or maligned, is still entitled to invoke that privilege. So can’t people wait for that consultation before making any judgment on the one testifying?

But didn’t Neri already subtly imply that if the information not revealed involved high crimes, whether personally believed by him or based on recommendations of his lawyers, he would personally override that restraining cover under executive privilege? Sorry, I am not now inclined to re-reading the transcripts, so I could be wrong about Neri’s mention of high crimes.

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The partisan crowd was sorely disappointed. It entered into this arena, hell-bent on bringing down the unpopular President, with united minds determinedly cemented to the conclusion that this usurping Lady needs to be exposed and sent to the gallows. But the anointed executioner did not faithfully follow his scripted role, and what is actually coming out, strictly based on the virtual executioner’s point of view and his reading of the events relevant to the issue on the table, is that only a smaller fish can or may be served in a small platter.

Where did the executioner go wrong? Maybe his facts as facts do not jive with the facts as scripted? Maybe, crowd should ease up a bit to fight another day?

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The partisan crowd wanted its pound of flesh, now and not tomorrow, or any other day. Unfortunately, the butcher did not deliver pronto. So, now the butcher has become the swine, to be quartered and served as the alternate menu.

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Neri said: NEDA.. .. . under the president, not independent. So whether it was established as a constitutional body is not a valid bet here. But the answer speaks volumes.

Neri serves under the authority and confidence of the President. He can disagree but allow the President to make her own final decision on the matter, and still find sufficient justification to continue to stay in office. After all, if President loses confidence, out the door he goes, hopefully without the added provision that the same closing door hit him as he leaves. Or maybe he can resign when any disagreement ensues and maybe consign the rest of his life to some unheralded corner of unreality, where he can nurse his unrealizable or utopian expectations. It is solely his call.

BTW, didn’t the interrogators show a very marked disconnect from the nature, extent and culture of the lumbering bureaucracy in the country? Thus referred to as the micromanager, this President caters to a very top-heavy concentration of powers, so that practically all government executive actions and decision emanate from her person? And that her subalterns are simply there mostly for advisory and/or ministerial capacities? Not that this is any different from past presidents, right?

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Neri invoked executive privilege on conversations he had with the President for two possible reasons. He is withholding information because revelation may implicate the President and her family, or because he wants the President to speak for herself on matters directly attributable to her. If Neri speaks and implicates the President, it could possibly boil down to a “he said, she said” confrontation, until an outside independent source can be brought in to confirm who is into falsehood. Much like the Abalos bribe try.

Ushering in the following questions:

When she returns, cannot the President be asked to testify before the Senate re this deal?

And while we are on the subject of seeking truth, cannot a Chinese and/or ZTE official be invited to shed light? What’s the harm in trying?

Unless, is it an accepted and foregone conclusion that they are the alleged source (s) of the proffered bribes? Or that bribes had actually been offered by them?


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Hang in there, fellow traveler Romy. This may be one of those instances where it still pays to be made a fool by others.

And let me end, for now at least, with the firm hope that when one Googles your name to search and tally the juicy items written about you, this little bit helps in easing the collective pain brought on by the cruel onslaught of blind negativity colonizing the Internet.

Update:

Well, Well. Finally, getting some evenhanded treatment of Romy Neri.

From Inquirer.
From Mr. Babe Romualdez.
Another from Inquirer.